Sibley-Ocheyedan kindergartners reading

Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary kindergartners Ian Garcia and Tayah Beyer go through reading exercises in a booklet while working in a small group session in Lynette DeJong’s class.

SIBLEY—When Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary principal Cory Jenness saw his fourth-graders’ test results from the 2019 Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP), he did not quite believe it at first.

“I thought I was reading it wrong because it was 98 percent had passed,” Jenness said.

Students at the elementary turned in above-average scores overall on the statewide standardized test, which debuted last spring as a replacement for the Iowa Assessments. They were tested on their skills in English-language arts and math.

The fourth-graders’ reading scores far surpassed the state average for their grade level, which came in at 70 percent. Sibley-Ocheyedan fourth-graders also performed at 88 percent proficient in math, 15 percent higher than the state average.

Jenness explained English-language arts portion also included a writing portion, a feature not included in the Iowa Assessments.

“When you dig a little deeper, there was only one student who actually did not pass that test,” Jenness said. “The interesting thing was, the student passed the reading portion. It was the writing that brought the score down.”

Meanwhile, Sibley-Ocheyedan third-graders scored 80 percent proficient in reading and 86 percent in math on their first time taking the test. The statewide averages for those tests are 65 percent and 71 percent respectively.

Jenness credited the students’ strong reading results to the elementary’s daily 90-minute blocks of intensive reading activities.

“We keep it kind of as a sacred cow, meaning we don’t allow things to interrupt it,” Jenness said.

“So if we’ve got people that need to come in and talk to kids great, it’s got to be outside the reading block. If people want to go on a field trip, great, you can go but you’ve got to get the reading block in.”

Teachers generally give students one or two main reading objectives to focus on during the blocks. Students alternate between working individually on their reading programs and working in small groups with their teachers and classmates.

Part of the students’ solo work time also involves using an online reading program that tracks their individual reading progress.

For students who struggle in a particular area related to reading or language arts, the school offers an after-school tutoring program to zero in on each student’s needs.

“If a kid struggles in comprehension, when they go to tutoring, they’re going to be working on strictly comprehension,” Jenness said.

Besides continuing to develop students’ reading skills, teachers at the elementary have also worked to sharpen their pupils’ writing abilities in preparation for the ISASP. This has included getting them used to writing out answers to prompts and teaching them how to support those answers beyond yes or no.

Jenness said an example of a writing prompt students get on the test could be “If you could create one new school rule, what would it be and why?” Students then have to formulate a response with multiple paragraphs.


Grade               Subject                     Proficiency rate

Fourth              English-language arts    98%

Fourth              Math                            88%

Third                English-language arts    80%

Third                Math                            86%